Eva de Smedt

Eva de Smedt

Participant in 2009

Phd Projects


Journalists and Politicians in Interaction. A Study of the Interactional Power Dynamics in Political Interviews and Television Debates

This study explores the complex interactional dynamics and power relationships manifest in interactions between journalists and politicians in political interviews and television debates. Particular attention is given to the interactional strategies and techniques both actors develop and employ in order to maintain a positive image in front of the audience. In political television interactions, journalists and politicians are confronted with a double tension. On the one hand, journalists take a sceptical stance towards the policies, utterances and actions of politicians in a manner that meets their legitimated role of ‘watchdog’. At the same time they are restricted in challenging politicians, since they are legally obliged to stay neutral and objective at all times. Politicians, on the other hand, need to obtain or maintain a favourable image by refuting the journalist’s critical comments and at the same time communicating their own messages and policies to appeal to the electorate. This PhD research maps this tension by focussing on local microinteractions between journalists and politicians and the ways power relationships are being continuously negotiated and resisted in a dynamic and often collaborative way. Therefore, the methodological framework of conversation analysis (CA) is appealing. The basic idea of CA is that social interactions are organized in an orderly way and that this ‘natural’ organization can be discovered by the close analysis of the rules and structures that produce that orderliness (e.g. Psathas, 1995). Traditionally, proponents of CA have always been rather reticent regarding the explicit use of the term ‘power’ in institutional talk. However, more recently there have been some pleas to bring considerations of power into the framework of CA (see for instance Hutchby, Silverman and Thornborrow). In line with this trend, I argue for the study of ‘power-in-interaction’, thereby emphasizing the local and dialogical nature of the ways in which power can be “brought into being” (Heritage, 1984: 290). Power can be maintained and resisted within the local orientations of journalists and politicians in the interactional context of political interviews and television debates.

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